STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State hadn’t experienced the raw emotion and pain in a while. The quiet plane ride, the hushed locker room before a Sunday practice — everything that comes with a loss in college football.
Every Sunday this season, the locker room had been loud. This close-knit team was laughing, joking, and bragging about plays they had made the previous day. But that’s not what would have been heard inside the Lasch Building a few days ago.
“We haven’t felt what losing is like in a long time,” defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said Tuesday. “We didn’t even know how to act on a Sunday. The feeling wasn’t the same. But we definitely got better on Sunday.”
Penn State hadn’t lost since the first calendar day of 2019, the Citrus Bowl defeat to conclude last season. The last time the Nittany Lions had lost a regular-season game, it came after a loss the previous week. That’s been a theme each of the last two seasons: One loss has snowballed into another.
That’s been a point of emphasis among this Penn State team since the final whistle blew in Minneapolis.
“We can’t let Minnesota beat us twice,” Mustipher said.
Even on a young team such as this, there are still plenty of experienced players around to remind everyone that the sky isn’t falling after just one loss.
“We’ve fallen into a lull where we’ve felt sorry for ourselves last year and the year before — it’s not the end of the world,” senior linebacker Jan Johnson said. “We need to go out and handle our business, and it starts this week with going out and beating Indiana at home.”
The Indiana team that will enter Beaver Stadium on Saturday is very different from the Hoosier teams the Nittany Lions have seen recently.
“They are throwing the ball all over the field,” coach James Franklin said. “They are a spread offense, running the ball probably less than what we have seen from Indiana over the last few years. But they are throwing it extremely well.”
Sure, the offense is different, but Indiana is ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 25 years, at No. 24.
“They are having a heck of a year,” Franklin said. “I think Coach [Tom] Allen has done a great job.”
The Hoosiers have the most prolific passing attack in the Big Ten. They’re the only team in the conference averaging more than 300 passing yards, and they’re doing it with a quarterback situation that has been unconventional, to say the least.
Earlier in the season, redshirt Michael Penix won the job and was impressive, but injuries prompted Indiana to go to backup Peyton Ramsey, who is now the full-time starter because of a season-ending injury suffered by Penix.
“[Ramsey] is really good at extending plays. He’s active in the pocket,” Johnson said. “He’s not afraid to tuck it and run it, but he’s also able to keep his eyes downfield and make plays. He’s been pretty accurate this year so far. We’re going to have to be able to contain him as well as get pressure on him so he’s not comfortable back there as well.”
It’s going to be a change of pace for the Penn State defense coming off a game against such a run-heavy offense as Minnesota — the Golden Gophers ran the ball on two-thirds of their offensive plays last week. The Nittany Lions allowed a season-high 460 yards last week and now, facing a potent Indiana offense, the key will be limiting the Hoosiers in the first quarter, something that didn’t happen against the Golden Gophers.
“When you lose, you get better in every way,” Mustipher said. “We have to come out faster and more physical than we did. It starts in practice. You’ve got to come out in practice with the mindset that you’re going to be better. When you start out practice that way, it makes it easier to start out the game that way.”